I am referring, of course, to Donald Trump and his transition team.
While many commentators are lambasting the Clinton campaign for not reading the political moment better, the postmortems show that Trump’s team was only marginally less surprised by the outcome. Bloomberg’s Joshua Green and Sasha Issenberg report that, “Even on the eve of the election Trump’s models predicted only a 30 percent likelihood of victory.” Politico’s Nancy Cook and Andrew Restuccia note a similar mind-set:
Many members of the 100-plus Trump transition team were surprised by the election results. Many privately expected the Republican to get lambasted at the polls.“There was definitely some shock,” one team member told POLITICO, adding, “Let’s just put it this way, I owe a lot of people around here lunches and beers.”
And the Daily Beast’s Kimberly Dozier and Shane Harris offer up this nugget:
Team Trump didn’t expect to win until the campaign’s internal polling a month before the election signaled a possible victory. That’s when senior Trump officials went into overdrive, trying to build a bench of experienced national security candidates with top secret clearances willing to work for a Trump presidency — and they met resistance across the landscape of experienced GOP national security professionals.
Trump’s team did not expect to win. A collection of outsiders largely inexperienced about government must now prepare to take over one of the world’s largest bureaucracies. Oh, and they’re doing it shorthanded. Trump’s campaign policy shop died a slow death back in August. His transition team was understaffed. None of this changes the fact that on Jan. 20, Trump will be sworn in as president.
This isn’t just a problem with hiring people to run the government. It is also a problem with Trump’s own mind-set. On Thursday, he came to Washington to meet with President Obama and the GOP leadership in Congress. Consider the following photos:
CNN’s description of this meeting suggests that it’s beginning to dawn on Trump that he’s actually going to be the commander in chief:
The meeting, and Trump’s stern demeanor, also underscored how the heavy burden of the presidency begins to settle on the shoulders of a President-elect. In Trump’s case, that process will be especially challenging giving that he will be the first president elected with not political, diplomatic or military executive experience.
And here Trump and soon-to-be first lady Melania Trump look super-thrilled to chat with House Speaker Paul D. Ryan.
Yes, it’s unfair to judge what people are thinking from just a few still photos. But the reportage also makes it clear that Trump and his coterie have not quite processed what is happening. Which means there are going to be a lot more bumps in the road for the next three months.
Indeed, the Associated Press reports that Trump’s transition team already contravened standard operating procedures for a president-elect:
Donald Trump is keeping Americans in the dark about his earliest conversations and decisions as president-elect, bucking a long-standing practice intended to ensure the public has a watchful eye on its new leader.Trump on Thursday refused to allow journalists to travel with him to Washington for his historic first meetings with President Barack Obama and congressional leaders. The Republican’s top advisers rebuffed news organizations’ requests for a small “pool” of journalists to trail him as he attended the meetings.The decision was part of an opaque pattern in Trump’s moves since his victory Tuesday. He was entirely out of sight on Wednesday. His aides said he was huddled with advisers at his offices in New York. His team has not put out a daily schedule, or offered any detailed updates on how he has spent his time. They have not acknowledged phone calls or other contact with world leaders.
And then there’s Trump’s Twitter feed:
Just had a very open and successful presidential election. Now professional protesters, incited by the media, are protesting. Very unfair!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 11, 2016
When a man who was elected president with the second-largest number of votes complains that protests are somehow “unfair,” it suggests that maybe he’s not thinking about how to be the president of all Americans.
By definition, transition means change. Trump and his staff will likely move down the learning curve. To Trump or his staff’s credit, his follow-up tweet this morning about the protests was more conciliatory. Trump spokeswoman Hope Hicks put out a statement promising a traditional press pool “in the near future,” which hopefully means before Jan. 20. A Trump administration will eventually staff up, even in foreign policy.
But let’s be blunt: Trump’s quixotic management style was always going to clash with the rigors of the White House. The fact that he’s already scrambling means this transition is going to be the opposite of orderly.
The Americans who voted for Donald Trump wanted to see a disruption of the status quo in Washington. We are all about to get a firsthand look at what that actually means.